ORDINARY consumers are subsidising binge drinkers because supermarkets increase the cost of everyday items to make up for discount alcohol sales, a leading doctor has said.
Liver specialist Dr Chris Record said a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol should be introduced, a move he claimed could lead to a reduction in the cost of a weekly shop.
His comments come after the Scottish Government published a report from Sheffield University, suggesting the introduction of a minimum price of 40p on a unit of alcohol, coupled with a ban on drinks promotions, could save Scotland 950 million over the next decade thanks to reductions in alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions and crime.
Writing in the journal Clinical Medicine, Dr Record, a consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, said a 50p minimum price would lead to a small rise in cost for moderate consumers, but would make alcohol much more expensive for heavy drinkers.
"The fact is, 80 per cent of alcohol purchases are made by only 30 per cent of the population and at a time when families are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, it is unfair that the moderate-drinking majority should be subsidising a heavy-drinking minority," he said.
"A minimum price would mean an increase in profit for retailers from alcohol, allowing them to make other products more affordable for moderate drinkers."
The Sheffield University report – which examined the impact of various minimum prices on a variety of factors including mortality rate, crime and absenteeism – suggested a 40p minimum coupled with a ban on drinks offers would cut alcohol consumption across Scotland by 5.4 per cent.
That would lead to a reduction in alcohol-related deaths of 19 per cent in the next decade, it was estimated.
Over the same period, hospital admissions would drop by 10 per cent and the amount of alcohol-fuelled crime would dip by around 3,200 offences each year, offering a saving to society of around 40m.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon claimed the measures were a "key weapon in the battle against alcohol misuse", adding: "While minimum pricing is not the whole answer, sensible drinking starts with sensible pricing."
But opposition parties questioned the effectiveness of the proposed measures.
Conservative deputy leader Murdo Fraser said the research "flew in the face" of evidence from Scandinavia suggesting high prices had little correlation with reduced consumption.
He said: "Increasing prices will not automatically reduce consumption.
"Problem drinkers will find the extra money and spend less on other things, such as food for them and their family."
He called on existing laws to be used to clamp down on problem drinking, a move that was backed by other politicians.
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Cathy Jamieson said tougher sanctions were required for those who broke the licensing laws,
while Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown called for a shift of emphasis away from pricing mechanisms towards enforcement of licensing regulations.